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Between its giddy mix of bustling urban life and natural wonders, there’s no shortage of iconic and fascinating sights in Rio De Janeiro, from monumental statues to long stretches of world famous beaches. Culture Trip rounds up 20 of the must-see attractions in this vibrant South American city.
As one of Rio’s most iconic tourist attractions, no trip here is truly complete without a visit to this momumental landmark. The Christ is the largest Art Deco statue in the world, which is remarkable in itself. Yet what is truly impressive is the fact it is perched on top of the 2,330-foot (710 meter) high Corcovado mountain. The statue can be reached by hiking trail, train or van.
The Pão de Açúcar – or Sugarloaf mountain to give it its English name – is another unmissable tourist attraction on a par with Christ the Redeemer. The peak is surrounded by the ocean and is accessible by cable car, or by rock climbing to the top for the truly brave! The views from the summit provide a breathtaking panorama of the South Zone of Rio de Janeiro.
The beach prefered by the international jet-setters back in the ’60s, Copacabana Beach remains a firm favorite among today’s travelers for its long stretch of soft sand and cooling waters. The beach is bustling with activity during the day, as sports enthusiasts, beach goers, live bands and beach vendors all jostle for space at peak hours.
Rio de Janeiro is one of the only places in Brazil where tourists can safely visit a favela, and the safest of them all is Vidigal. After a successful pacification programme in the region a few years ago, Vidigal has incredible nightlife during the weekends, with bars such as Bar da Laje offering great views, appetizing food and delicious cocktails, and Alto Vidigal with its all-night parties and exciting national and international DJ line-ups.
With its base at the peak of the Vidigal favela, the Dois Irmãos peaks (Two Brothers peaks) is one of the most interesting and beautiful hikes in Rio de Janeiro. After a relatively testing 40-minute hike to the summit, hikers will be rewarded with glorious views that reach out over Ipanema, Lagoa and cross to the lesser-known East Zone of Rio.
The Museum of Tomorrow was constructed to coincide with the mass of tourists flocking into Rio for the 2016 Olympics. It is now Rio’s most popular musuem, both for its extraordinary architecture and its fascinating interactive displays that focus on sustainability and future possibilities of our planet.
Pedra do Sal is the birthplace of samba, and live bands go every Monday evening to continue with the age-old tradition of performing to the crowds that gather there. Historically, Pedra do Sal was the place where escaped or freed slaves would seek refuge. Nowadays a crowd of all ages and tastes head there to drink refreshing caipirinhas in the balmy evenings to the sound of captivating samba.
The Maracanã Stadium is the largest soccer stadium in Brazil and the second largest in South America – the title of the largest stadium goes to Estadio Monumental in Peru. Currently tours of the stadium are not operational with no date set to resume. However, a better way of experiencing the sheer size of this stadium is getting tickets to watch a game. Local games between Rio’s four rival teams – Flamengo, Fluminese, Botafogo and Vasco – are the most exciting to watch.
Tijuca Forest is an extraordinary natural attraction in Rio. As the largest urban forest in the world, it is home to astonishing species of plants and animals, a few that exist nowhere else in the world and depend solely on Tijuca’s environment for survival. There are also a handful of manmade attractions here that are worth visiting, such as Vista Chinesa, a Chinese-style gazebo with panoramic views over Lagoa and Ipanema.
This natural lake in the south zone of the city creates a wonderful spot to run, ride a bike, have a picnic or just leisurely stroll around. Lagoa has ample quiet bars and restaurants to enjoy a daytime beer or an outdoor dinner with a lakeside view.
Tucked into the corner of Ipanema, Arpoador has some of the clearest and warmest waters of the beaches in Rio. During the day it is a hotspot among surfers who go there to catch the small, neat waves, or beach-goers who enjoy the suntrap of the peninsula. The most rewarding time to go is in the evening when you can watch the sun set over the horizon, providing one of the Rio’s most vibrant and stunning sunsets.
A former mansion surrounded by the Tijuca forest, Parque Lage is now an art school and café which serves wonderful breakfast and lunch options, with beers and wine on the menu too. The serene surroundings are home to resident monkeys and birds that are wild yet not fearful of people, allowing fantastic photo opportunities. Visitors to Parque Lage may be reminded of Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams’ music video “Beautiful,” which features Parque Lage in the final scene.
Rio de Janeiro’s Botanical Gardens provide a remarkable sample of Brazil’s exotic plant and tree species. In addition to the gardens, there is a museum dedicated to Brazilian musician Tom Jobin, a French-style café and restaurant and a natural museum with insect samples and informative displays.
The unique and vibrant steps of Escadaria Selarón stand at the entrance of Lapa and reach up to the hillside of Santa Teresa. Chilean-born Jorge Selarón created the steps by hand, carefully piecing together bits of interesting and colorful tiles to create a 410 foot (125 meter) length mosaic on what has become one of the most famous staircases in the world.
Joatinga Beach is near to Recreio in the east of the city. Rarely visited by tourists, it is a tranquil haven of white, soft sands and a stunningly clear sea. It is a great place to laze the day away on the beach or tackle some challenging waves in empty waters for surfers.
A quiet cobbled alleyway during the day, Arco de Teles comes alive at night with live Brazilian-music bands in the streets and rows of bars and restuarants catering for the masses that gather here. The best nights to go are Thursdays and Fridays when happy hour proves irresistible for people working nearby who stop by to wind down and join in with the fun-loving crowds.
The Municipal Theater borders the Cinelandia square in the city center. A classic example of stunning architecture inspired by Parisian styles, the theater hosts plays, live orchestras and operas, and dance shows, especially ballet.
With an extensive collection of both national and international works, the Museum of Modern Art (or MAM as it’s often known) is a must-see for art lovers. The surrounding gardens are the works of Roberto Burle, a famous Brazilian landscaper. Sometimes the museum becomes the venue for cultural and musical events on the weekends, with live music performances and all-night parties.
Cachoeira do Horto is a waterfall in the middle of Tijuca Forest and provides a light relief from the relentless hot days of Rio de Janeiro. Take the short, 15-minute hike to the fall that is small enough to stand under and lie in the cool pool that forms below.
What was once the inspiring project of a new hotel in the middle of the rainforest, quickly became an abandoned shell after the construction company became bankrupt. Nowdays, the Gavea Hotel (or locally known as the Skeleton Hotel) remains in the middle of the Tijuca Forest, attracting locals and travelers curious to discover more about this deserted hotel. It can be reached from Estrada Vista Chinesa, and visitors can take the staircase inside up to the top to admire the stunning surrounding views.